Feb 06, 2021

By Nicole Bitette
It took more than a dozen shoots in 3 countries to get nearly 40 characters and talent from across the ViacomCBS portfolio to the top of Paramount Mountain.

In Making It Work, creatives and decision-makers from across ViacomCBS describe how they turned an idea into a reality. In this installment, we spoke to Sarah LaBrache, SVP of creative marketing for ViacomCBS Digital, and Dan Kelly, group creative director at creative agency Droga5, about how they were able to produce and create numerous Paramount+ spots leading up to the “Sweet Victory” Super Bowl commercial to tout the service. They spoke about the vision behind the Paramount Mountain expedition and all the detours along the way. Plus, how they were able to do it all under strict COVID-19 production restrictions.

Sarah LaBrache: We wanted the Paramount+ Super Bowl commercials to look like an 100 million-dollar movie. Our attitude was, “go big or go home.” We decided to swing for the fences. The concept of the expedition up Paramount Mountain playfully illustrates what Paramount+ has to offer with live sports, breaking news, and a mountain of entertainment. Our logo became a fitting metaphorical backdrop for this adventure.

Dan Kelly: Once we had the idea of the mountain, we thought of using it just as the asset to describe the dimensions of service. Then we started exploring interesting ways to use the mountain. How were we going to explain what sets the service apart with this logo that the whole world knows?

We added to the idea in a really ambitious but simple way, making it an expedition up to the top, with a glorious reveal of stars at the end. We never had anyone climb a logo before. What we came up with would have been ambitious even in non-Covid times, so adding that on top of everything was truly a challenge.

 

 

To see all the spots in the Paramount+ Expedition campaign, click here.

LaBrache: There are a lot of streaming services out there, but the fact that we can connect to viewers with live content that brings communities together is a differentiator in the space. Being able to communicate that, in addition to showing the huge assortment of talent on the service, was important to us. Having the talent all come together—and at the Super Bowl—felt really massive.

We shot for 14 days, with 27 of our talent, and incorporated more than a dozen animated characters. The shoots spanned across three countries: the U.S., the U.K., and Canada. In some cases, we filmed some talent remotely, via their own on-set crews.

Due to Covid restrictions, we shot each individual separately. In most cases, they would show up to a big studio with a snowy ground and a green screen all around it. Our goal was to make this look like we shot with everyone at the same time, together in one place. Thankfully, we had an incredible VFX partner in The Milll, which went to great lengths to make sure everything from eyelines, to lighting, to camera moves matched perfectly.

BTS

Kelly: We wrote so many scripts. Scripts for talent we had no idea we could get, scripts for talent we hoped we could get, scripts for talent we didn’t even know would be an option.

There were so many detours along the way, mainly due to talent scheduling. All the talent sign-ons came in at different times and changed rapidly —especially due to filming bubbles during Covid. We didn't know that we would have access to the late night hosts, for example. When we got Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, they were nearly last, but of course it was an opportunity we could not pass up and made sure to find a meaningful place for them in the spot.

"It was probably too ambitious and probably shouldn’t have been possible. But we made it happen."

Dan Kelly

Group Creative Director, Droga5

We also had to get creative in the way we incorporated SpongeBob and Bikini Bottom, which can be seen in the “Sweet Victory” spot that debuted at the Super Bowl.

LaBrache: It was challenging putting together that many shoots and getting the logistics to work within quarantine and travel restrictions. Our in-house creative leads worked tirelessly with our Executive Producer and talent coordinators to pull this off. With the Covid factor, each shoot was touch-and-go until it actually happened. When Norah O’Donnell was on the runway to fly from D.C. to New York to film, her plane encountered a technical issue and wouldn’t start. We had to cancel that shoot. Luckily we had one shoot remaining in Miami for DJ Khaled. We were grateful Nora was willing to fly to Miami to film with us there before we wrapped.

Another challenge was getting the technical pieces in place so the camera moves and lighting matched from set to set and person to person. To do that on multiple stages and in different cities was no small feat.

It was a new experience for a big part of the team to go after something this technical and be geographically removed from it all. Only a limited number of people were allowed on set. I had one person from my team on the ground, but the rest of us were watching remotely over Zoom and via QTAKE software. There was a group of us that just lived on Zoom for a month.

Kelly: In normal times, I would have been on-set right next to the director. We would have had a video village with our clients and our teams, where we’re all watching and discussing in real-time. Instead, we were there through Zoom, and we were able to see what was happening via monitors from the set. It was tough to deal with the virtual shooting environment and not be able to discuss things in a more human way. It was also a slower process.

LaBrache: Not only did we have the good fortune to work with great creative partners like Dan and Droga5, I also give credit to our director, David Shane, who is was able to elicit wonderful performances from our talent including those who aren’t actually actors like the reality stars and athletes. These spots look like a gigantic action movie, but within it we have these funny, intimate moments. That juxtaposition between the epic and the ridiculous is something we were going for. It’s where the magic lives.

(Editor's note, per David Shane: "Because of Covid concerns, none of the carbon-based celebrities and actors could be together on the set at the same time (the animated ones were cool with it)," said the director, David Shane. "The job was truly one long demented quadratic equation. But it was such a smart, funny idea that Droga5 had and the scripts were so smartly funny that we all put our heads down and went for it.")

 

Kelly: One of the highlights for me was seeing the “Frostbite” spot come together. It was always such a wacky idea. Also, working with someone like Mike Judge on Beavis and Butthead was something I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams. Seeing Patrick Stewart let loose and dance was also an incredible moment to witness.

LaBrache: Our goal with this campaign is to put Paramount+ on the map in an unexpected and playful way. There's a broad swath of high-caliber talent on this mountain. There are genres from across the board represented in our service. When you see Ethan Peck walking alongside Chase from PAW Patrol, or Dora riding on the back of a snowmobile with James Corden, you see that there's something available for every member of the family. This is a service that is worth having. That message is baked into the DNA of these spots.

Kelly: Millions of people watch the Super Bowl, so for Paramount+ to enter the streaming game, they had to come in big—30,000-foot big, which is what we’ve got with this giant mountain.

When you think about all the stars and all the IP that we melded together, it’s ambitious. If you're going to do something that ambitious, you want to have the biggest stage possible to show it. All of us believed in this idea so much and dedicated nights and weekends to making sure that it was possible. It was probably too ambitious and probably shouldn't have been possible. But we made it happen.

LaBrache: This project felt like its own expedition since there were many detours along the way. It’s pretty exhilarating to finally get the campaign out into the world and have it be so well received. It’s a real testament to the team’s grit and determination and to the love we all have for this campaign.